by Randy Rice || AHL On The Beat Archive
|Brad Thompson joined the Detroit Red Wings’ support staff for the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs.|
“Oh man, you’re sleeping!” jokes Kirk Maltby, as he grabs his own replacement stick from the bench during a Detroit Red Wings practice between playoff games.
Watch the bonus features on the Wings’ 2008 Stanley Cup championship DVD and you will see that the “Dogg” Maltby calls out to is not a furry family pet, but none other than longtime Grand Rapids Griffins equipment manager Brad Thompson.
“I was watching (Darren) McCarty and some other guys dangle, and Malts broke his stick at the other end,” Thompson said in his defense. “Of course he was mic’d up for the DVD, so to anyone that watches, it looks like I don’t know what is going on.”
Known around the AHL and within the Red Wings organization as “Dogg,” those who best know Thompson realize that he was simply caught relishing the two months he spent with the Wings during their memorable run to the Cup.
While the DVD footage may have snared him in a rare moment of respite, viewers of Versus and NBC during the playoffs could catch frequent glimpses of him on the bench, working hard and fast to ensure that all equipment was in working order for the eventual champions.
Thompson’s trip of a lifetime began as soon as the Griffins’ 2007-08 season ended on April 12. While Thompson was packing up gear in his office, Red Wings general manager Ken Holland entered and personally asked him to join the parent club for the duration of the playoffs.
“He just came in and told me he wanted me to come to Detroit and help out and be part of the experience,” Thompson said. “For me it was a no-brainer. I told him no question about it … I’m there. So I finished up a few things around Grand Rapids and left for Detroit two days later.”
When he arrived in Hockeytown, Thompson was welcomed as a full member of the team. He was put up at the Renaissance Hotel just down the road from Joe Louis Arena and given his own room on each playoff trip. Needless to say, the D-O-G-G was living the first-class life while being away from home for two months.
“It sure was a different situation, getting on a plane instead of a bus all the time,” Thompson said. “They gave me my own seat and my own hotel room, and I was invited to each of the pre- and post-game meals. They really treated me nicely.”
Of course, to players who’ve passed through the Griffins organization, Thompson is like family and would be treated in no other fashion. Having begun his career in Grand Rapids’ locker room as the assistant equipment manager during the franchise’s second season in 1997-98, the Wyoming, Mich., native has had the privilege of working with many of the Griffins’ finest. Thompson was promoted to equipment manager in the summer of 2001, as Grand Rapids headed into its first season as the Red Wings’ AHL affiliate.
Given that history, Thompson was entering familiar territory as he entered the bowels of the Joe.
“When I went into the room in Detroit, I got to see guys like (Tomas) Kopecky, (Jiri) Hudler, (Valtteri) Filppula and (Niklas) Kronwall again. About half their players used to play in Grand Rapids, so I was really familiar with everyone,” Thompson said. “It seemed like I was just going back to work for our old teams. But even the older guys that never played here know me well from training camp, since we have been affiliated with the Wings for seven years now, and they are always excited to see me.”
In addition to getting reacquainted with some Grand Rapids alumni, Thompson continued working with then-head coach Mike Stothers, current assistant coach Jim Paek and seven Griffins players who joined the parent club for the playoffs.
It is a tall task for any equipment staff to take care of an overloaded hockey team, so Thompson helped out in whatever way he could. This meant a lot of lugging hockey bags around, in light of the larger roster and more intense travel situation the Stanley Cup playoffs present.
“It seemed like most of my time was spent loading and unloading,” he said. “In Colorado, we were constantly going back and forth between the arena and the practice rink.”
“He was doing everything and anything to help out,” stated Paek. “I didn’t see him much, he was so busy. But I think it meant a lot to him to be up there and experience everything. It really is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, which was great for him. I know he loved it.”
And love it Thompson did. Working with one of 30 NHL equipment staffs is a dream in and of itself, but joining a team during its run to a Stanley Cup is something far bigger.
During the finals, Detroit fans had their elation delayed by a game when the Penguins edged out a gut-wrenching overtime victory in Game 5, forcing Game 6 in Pittsburgh. Though not prone to superstition, Thompson briefly thought he might be to blame as the team headed into the dressing room without the Cup in hand.
“You know, I did touch the Stanley Cup when I was in Toronto at the Hockey Hall of Fame when I was about 15 years old,” Thompson said. “The thought crossed my mind when we lost [Game 5] that it may be because of me, but we still won … so, no curse for me. Plus, it was better winning in Pittsburgh. We didn’t have to clean up the mess we left behind,” Thompson jokingly added.
Thompson made sure to do more than touch the Cup this time, hoisting it up and kissing it in celebration. But out of respect for the holy grail of hockey – and perhaps to keep the possibility open for winning it one day as an NHL equipment manager – he turned down what Stanley Cup champions consider to be the sweetest drink of their lives.
“I made sure to touch it and kiss it, but drinking from it is something I just wanted to save, in case the day ever comes when I am the equipment guy in the NHL,” Thompson said.
Although content and happy to be in Grand Rapids for now, he still aspires to the big league.
“If the right opportunity presents itself, I am going to do it. But for now, I am not going to jump ship. I am happy where I am at in Grand Rapids with a great organization and general manager in Bob McNamara,” he said.
For someone like Thompson who’s highly regarded at his craft, it might not be a matter of looking for the right opportunity, as much as there being an NHL team searching for the right equipment guy. Many in the Griffins organization agree that Thompson could be the right fit for any team in the big league if it came knocking.
“He’s been doing his job very well at this level for years now,” Paek said. “He would be very capable of handling an NHL job.”
Just as players in the AHL work hard to earn their right to play in the NHL, so too do coaches, front office staff and, in Thompson’s case, equipment managers. Today, if you hear “DOGG!” echo through the caverns of AHL arenas, you’ll know Brad Thompson is the one being summoned. Only time will tell, but it could soon reverberate throughout an NHL locker room, and perhaps one day Dogg will earn that drink from the prized dish.